The importance of promoting and fostering volunteerism

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Over the last months, many commentators have rightly praised the incredible role played by individuals and informal groups of citizens in the aftermath of the earthquakes that have rocked the country. Knowing the high level of social capital rooted locally all over Nepal, no one should be really surprised about the vital responsibilities volunteers have taken during the entire humanitarian and emergency phase.

After all, the resilience of an entire nation was embedded in the civic endeavors of thousands of persons united by the common spirit of solidarity and empathy.

Their work was so impactful that there no wonders that now the government wants to harness the power of volunteerism to rebuild the nation.

While the recognition is certainly important, it remains paramount, before setting high expectations and avoiding any misunderstandings, to bring clarity about volunteerism, seizing the opportunity to think new ideas on the future course of action for the entire sector.

At the same time it is ironic that the Government recognizes the role of volunteers only and exclusively in time of need. After all, it is easy to only praise volunteers because of their accomplishments. Moreover their action did not cost anything for the government.

First of all, what it is important to recognize is the fact that volunteerism is broad and diverse involving formally registered organizations but, importantly, also the contributions of individuals and informal groups.

Second is paramount to define the boundaries of the sector by highlighting its non financial dimensions, implying the monetary allowances or stipends should be more the exception than the rule.

The fact that that Government is mulling the creation of another high level commission to coordinate the mobilization of volunteers in the post earthquake work offers some room for fresh thinking.

Here a list of proposals:

Use NDVS as focal point in the upcoming campaign: There is no need to create new “powerful” committee. Let’s try to use at the best the existing “infrastructure”. NDVS, under its new leadership, works well and it is efficient. NDVS has already a well established network of volunteers all around the country. If given the adequate resources, NDVS can play the essential coordinating role that is needed to ensure effectiveness among all volunteering based initiatives. The fact that NDVS is part of the National Planning Commission is definitely an advantage in terms of alignment with national reconstuction goals.

Setting the right framework: Expectations are always high when we think of the impact that volunteers can achieve. We should not forget that volunteers are often the solution when there are not other alternatives available. Volunteers can do lots of things, bridging the gaps that no one else is ready to fill in but should not offer an alternative platform to what the government has the duties to do. While we cannot always wait forever for others to take action, the mobilization of volunteers should, possibly, always be in coordination with the government and other stakeholders. This does not mean getting bogged down or losing autonomy and speed of action. Partnerships should be flexible enough to recognize the independent nature of volunteering action while ensuring maximization of impact thanks to a clear division of role and responsibilities. A priority would be setting realistic monitoring mechanisms that not only track down the actions of volunteering groups all over the country but also offers ways to measure their impact.

National Volunteering Policy: It is high time the government formally endorses the draft National Volunteering Policy that is ready since one year. Though imperfect, having a policy in place would be an intermediary milestone towards a more ambitious goal of having a legislation governing the sector.

Creating a National Volunteering Network: We need a very loose coordination mechanism capable of bringing together the multitude of volunteering experiences promoted all over the country. With lean form of governance, the network should be run independently by a steering committee with zero tolerance for any form of politicization. The network would act as forum to share best practices and formulate a minimum level of coordination among its members. Informal groups or even single individuals should actively be part of it. NDVS could play an important role in facilitating the network creation and also in hosting its secretariat.

Recognize the role of private sector: we should go beyond the assumption that volunteerism is an exclusive monopoly of not for profit sector. Corporate houses, through new innovative philanthropic efforts, have a role to play within the society by going beyond the “check” centered model of Corporate Responsibility. They can endorse corporate volunteerism programs that directly involve their staff in community development work, including skills sharing pro bono service, a practice recognized to also positively impact on the performances of the same employees involved in the volunteering action.

Make it inclusive: at ENGAGE we have adopted the motto “Everybody Can Serve” meaning that every single citizen can play a role as active citizen. Marginalized groups do not need to be necessarily at the receiving ends. For example persons living with disabilities, normally perceived as beneficiaries of volunteering actions, are showing how they can lead incredibly impactful volunteering led emergency work during the post quake emergency.

The quakes showed how, in time of dire needs, the entrepreneurial skills and dynamism of individual citizens and informal groups are not only unstoppable but also highly effective. By leveraging the work done by volunteers in the aftermath of the quakes, we have here a unique opportunity to strengthen the entire volunteering “infrastructure” in the country.

Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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